TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke at Sunday's official completion of the new national stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of next year's Tokyo Olympics. It will also host track and field and some soccer.
He could have spoken for anyone who has been inside the creation of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose venue is sure to be up for many design prizes.
“It blends with its surrounding and the natural environment," Abe said, noting it showcased Japan's ties to nature with its use of wood lattice work around the stadium's rim and roof, and earth-tone colors in the seats that are randomly colored brown, gray, two shades of green and white.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike pointed out the other strong feature as she spoke.
“This stadium uses a lot of trees in its structure," she said, speaking of the greenery that is everywhere — from flower planters, to trees and shrubs.
Although Tokyo is densely urban, it is also dotted with many parks and green areas. The stadium works off that theme, making sure it is functional and linked to nature.
A walkway on the fifth level is called the “Grove of the Sky.” It's about 30 meters (100 feet) above street level and runs 850 meters (1/2 mile) around the entire circumference of the stadium. It's lined with benches, flowers and trees. A stroll offers a breathtaking view of Tokyo, and on a clear day Mt. Fuji is visible to the west.
Makoto Sato, a spokesman for the Japan Sport Council, a national government body that built the venue, said the walkway will be open to the public on days when there are no events after the Olympics.
“We have tried to emphasize all four seasons and people can use it around the year and enjoy it,” he said.
The stadium seating rises in a steep gradient from the field level and the nine-lane track, getting steeper the higher it goes. The colors of the seats also get lighter the higher up you go with more brown seats near the bottom — the earth — and more green, gray and white near the top.
“Because of the gradient, it creates an atmosphere where people can feel close,” said Takeo Takahashi, another Japan Sport Council spokesman.
The stadium is sure to be the centerpiece of the 2020 Olympics, built at a cost of 156.9 billion yen, about $1.43 billion at the present exchange rate. The capacity for the Olympics will be 68,000 and can be expanded later to 80,000.
Tokyo's 1964 Olympics left behind several architectural jewels, the most famous of which was Kenzo Tange's Yoyogi National Stadium. It was the swimming venue in '64 — American swimmer Don Schollander won four gold medals there — and will host handball this time, and badminton and wheelchair rugby at the Paralympics.
The new stadium also feature items from the old national stadium, which was razed in 2015. The most prominent are two mosaic-tile murals featuring the Greek goddess Nike and Nomino Sukune, a legendary sumo wrestler. They are located at the Aoyama Gate entrance.
The venue will be open to the general public on Dec. 21, which will also feature a visit by eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. The first real event will be Jan. 1, 2020 with the Emperor's Cup, the championship of the Japan football league.
Governor Koike noted that the Olympics open in just over seven months — July 24, 2020.
“I can already envision the scene where the athletes are sprinting on this field and spectators are cheering for them in this stadium," she said.
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